Cyprus Mail

Unusual amulet one of major finds at Nea Paphos

Photo by Marcin Iwan artifact from the excavations of Jagiellonian University in Krakow at Paphos

A RECENTLY-published scientific paper on archaeological excavations at the Nea Paphos site reveals that one of the main finds was a 1,500-year-old two-sided amulet with a 59-letter palindrome inscription, meaning it reads the same backward as it does forward.

According to Live Science magazine, which obtained the article from the scientific journal ‘Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization’, one side of the amulet has several images, including a bandaged mummy likely representing the Egyptian god Osiris lying on a boat, and an image of Harpocrates, the god of silence, who is shown sitting on a stool while holding his right hand up to his lips.

It also displays a mythical dog-headed creature called a cynocephalus, which is shown holding a paw up to its lips, as if mimicking Harpocrates’ gesture, Live Science said.

The other side of the artifact contains the palindrome written in Greek. It reads: ΙΑΕW, ΒΑΦΡΕΝΕΜ, ΟΥΝΟΘΙΛΑΡΙ, ΚΝΙΦΙΑΕΥΕ, ΑΙΦΙΝΚΙΡΑΛ, ΙΘΟΝΥΟΜΕ, ΝΕΡΦΑΒW, ΕΑΙ, which is said to translate to “Iahweh(a god)is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine.”

According to Live Science, researchers have found similar palindromes elsewhere in the ancient world.

Quoting Joachim Śliwa, a professor at the Institute of Archaeology at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland in Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization, the magazine said whoever the scribe was had made two small mistakes when writing the palindrome, in two instances writing a “ρ” instead of “v.”

It said the amulet was discovered in the summer of 2011 during a dig at Nea Paphos led by Jagiellonian University professor Ewdoksia Papuci-Wladyka.

Amulets like the one found there were made to protect their owners from danger and harm, Papuci-Wladyka told Live Science in an email.

It said the amulet added to evidence that people practiced traditional, polytheistic beliefs on Cyprus for an extended time.

“She notes that a structure called the Villa of Theseus has a mosaic with pagan elements that was likely repaired as late as the 7th century A.D,” the magazine said. “It rather seems that Christian and pagan religions coexisted in Paphos in times of [the] amulet being in use,” Papuci-Wladyka told Live Science in the email.

The scientific paper also noted that despite that coexistence, the amulet had several features that suggested its creator didn’t fully understand the mythological characters it depicted.

“It must be stated that the depiction is fairly unskilled and schematic. It is iconographically based on Egyptian sources, but these sources were not fully understood by the creator of the amulet,” Śliwa wrote in the journal article.

“For instance, rather than sitting on a stool, Harpocrates should be sitting on a lotus flower, with legs drawn up,” Śliwa said. “Additionally, the dog-headed cynocephalus should not be mimicking Harpocrates. In the classic version, the cynocephalus faces Harpocrates with paws raised in adoration. We can find no justification for the cynocephalus’s gesture of raising its right paw to its lips in a manner similar to Harpocrates.” Also he said Mummy bandages had “no justification in the case of Harpocrates”.

The Nea Paphos site and Agora is home among others to the House of Dionysus and the House of Orpheus, Greco-Roman house types arranged around a central court; the Villa of Theseus built over the ruins of earlier Hellenistic and early Roman periods; the Agora, whose foundations still remain; one of the largest basilicas built in the fourth century AD; and a Byzantine castle.

During the most recent excavations there in November, pottery of different categories, terracotta figurines, coins and metal objects, were found in a well. According to the department of antiquities, during the fourth season the aim was not only to excavate and provisionally study the uncovered material, but also to conduct preservation work and to implement new, non-invasive research techniques already partly tested during the 2013 season.

The non-invasive research was conducted by specialists from the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow with the laser scanning of trenches, and the J. Kochanowski University in Kielce with georadar prospection. The excavated well was filled-in with rich movable material and earth. Pottery of different categories, such as fine wares, plain wares, cooking ware and transport amphorae, some of which bore stamps, were found.

The team also found terracotta figurines, coins and metal objects. Amongst the metal objects were three sling bullets, two of which were decorated with a relief depicting scorpions and the third with a representation of thunderbolt.

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